Asheville’s first Ethiopian restaurant opens downtown

HERE AT LAST: Addissae is responding to Asheville's longstanding craving for Ethiopian food. Owner Neeraj Kebede hopes his eatery will help nurture the area's Ethiopian community. Photo by Jonathan Ammons

After years of asking for it, Asheville finally has its own Ethiopian restaurant. Addissae opened on Tuesday, Dec. 16, for the first in a string of soft-opening nights. Currently only accepting around 50 reservations per night, the owners are trying to ease into their launch.

“We are kind of open already, but we are only taking reservations,” says Vicky Schomer, who owns and runs Addissae with husband Neeraj Kebede. “The buzz is out there and people are already calling, and every night we are amping up the number of reservations.”

Kebede immigrated to the U.S. at the tail-end of 1978, where he drove a taxi cab in the San Francisco Bay Area. “When people would find out I was from Ethiopia, almost the only thing they’d talk to me about was Ethiopian food,” he recalls.

The couple met in San Francisco and married 15 years ago before moving to Asheville to run Asheville Green Cottage, a green bed and breakfast.

“I’m Americanized, she is Ethiopianized, so it is a nice mixture,” Kebede jokes. “We have been dreaming about sharing Ethiopian culture with American people, so we’ve been talking about opening a restaurant for a very long time.”

For the American palate, the food most closely resembles Indian food, although that comparison drastically misses the deep complexity and uniqueness of both cuisines. W’at, a spicy Ethiopian curry-like stew of meat or vegetables, is piled onto large portions of injera — a large, soft, fermented bread that is made in-house daily by chefs Netsanet Solomon and Latey Gebrehiwot, who also hail from Ethiopia. There’s no need for utensils — just tear off a piece of injera, cradle it between your thumb and fingers, and use it like a big scoop to pick up the w’at or gomen, chili and collard greens with herbs and onions.

The traditional messob, or family-style, presentation is really the way to go, and diners can choose either vegetarian or meat service for just under $15 per person. If family-style dining is not your thing, you can also order each entree separately.

“I think something that is really special that a lot of people don’t know is that there are between 25 and 30 families that have adopted Ethiopian kids here in Asheville,” says Schomer, “and there is no place for those kids to get a taste of their own culture. But since people have heard that there is an Ethiopian restaurant opening, people who are from Ethiopia who live here are coming out of the woodwork. To me, that excites me more than anything! We’re hoping this will help the Ethiopian community grow.”

Addissae is at 48 Commerce St. For reservations, call 707-6563.

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About Jonathan Ammons
Native Asheville writer, eater, drinker, bartender and musician. Proprietor of www.dirty-spoon.com Follow me @jonathanammons

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